Last Friday in New Jersey: a story about stories

Last Friday in New Jersey I got up at 3am to take part via WebEx in a training program in London.  The program was about storytelling.  I was invited to discuss the architecture of stories, and encourage participants to tell their own personal stories.

No surprise to me, one guy spoke right up and said he was uncomfortable telling personal stories in a business setting.  He didn’t like doing it.  It was unprofessional.  He did not want to talk about the personal & private in public.

His boss was tolerant but encouraged him to keep an open mind.  “If the stories are real, relevant, and short, they help people know you and like you,” I heard her say.  “Stories teach without lecturing.  People remember them more than they remember data.”

“Stories,” she said, “Can increase trust between people.”

Overhearing this exchange taking place thousands of miles away through the grainy lens of WebEx,  I recalled a story about an unemployed engineer named George de Mestral.

In 1948 he was hunting in the Jura Mountains that border France and Switzerland. Returning home, he discovered his wool pants were covered with burrs.

Through a magnifying glass, he saw the burrs were covered with tiny hooks, and his wool pants were covered with tiny loops.

He decided to replicate in nylon the adhesion he observed between his pants and the burrs. He called his invention VELCRO, combining the French words velours and crochet.  The rough side of Velcro is made of tiny, flexible hooks; the fuzzy side, small, soft loops.”

In my mind, the boss in London was right.  What is the brain but a surface covered with trillions of tiny, flexible loops?  And what is a story but a series of words, sounds, and mental images covered with small, soft hooks–hooks designed to help us connect with one another?

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